Using Standards and Benchmarks to Assess Knowledge

Article excerpt

The quest for high quality evaluation and assessment of student knowledge and performance has been repeatedly addressed over the years. Without a clear framework of standards and benchmarks, gaps will persist in curriculum content and the quality of instruction will not be advanced.

Call for Standards

A Nation at Risk, published in 1983 by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, initiated the modern standards movement that called for reform in our educational institutions. It identified "a rising tide of mediocrity" in education that threatened the future of our nation (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983). In 1989, an Education Summit held by President George Bush and the nation's governors, established six broad goals for education, to be reached by the year 2000 (National Education Goals Panel, 1991).

In 1990, Congress established the National Education Goals Panel (NEGP) and the National Council on Education Standards and Testing INCEST). These two groups were charged with identifing subject matter to be addressed, types of assessments to be employed, and setting standards of performance. These efforts led to the setting of national standards in mathematics, science, civics, dance, theatre, music, art, history and social studies, to name a few. Since 1990, the movement has taken hold at the state level with most states and U.S. territories having set common academic standards for students (Kendall & Marzano, 2000).

In 1995, Former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, credited as a chief architect of the standards movement, sums up the need for standards in her book National Standards in American Education:A Citizens Guide (1995):

"Americans...expect strict standards to govern construction of buildings, bridges, highways, and tunnels; shoddy work would put lives at risk. They expect stringent standards to protect their drinking water, the food they eat, and the air they breathe. ...Standards are created because they improve the activity of life."

While most content areas have already developed and repeatedly revised their content standards over the last decade, Agricultural Education has produced only two frameworks. Cardwell (1999) developed a framework titled the Food, Fiber, Environment and Natural Resources (FFENR) Matrix with the intent of providing a model that would connect elements of the life and physical sciences to human activities associated with FFENR systems. In 1998, Leising, Igo, and Hubert developed the Food and Fiber Systems Literacy (FFSL) Framework.

The FFSL Framework

A call was issued in 1988 for systematic instruction about agriculture to be given all K- 12 students, establishing food and fiber systems literacy among our population (National Research Council, Board on Agriculture, Committee on Agricultural Education in Secondary

Schools). In 1996, Oklahoma State University, in cooperation with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, developed the Food and Fiber Systems Literacy (FFSL) Curriculum Framework. Themes, standards and benchmarks were identified and infused into the core academic curriculum using classroom activities that encouraged active learning. Through an infusion approach across the curriculum, development and testing of the FFSL Framework was carried out during the 1997-98 and 1998-99 academic years at elementary and middle schools in California, Montana, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania.

A web-site was created to share what was learned through this project and is maintained by the Department of Agricultural Education, Communications, and 4-H Youth Development at OSU. It includes information about the project, a downloadable version of A Guide to Food & Fiber Systems Literacy (1998), as well as lesson plans and instructional activities. The web-site URL is: http:// food_fiber.okstate.edu

Standards & Benchmarks

The FFSL Guide consists of two sections; the FFSL framework and sample instructional activities. …